Wisdom//

26 Award-Winning Social Good Entrepreneurs Share the Traits Most Critical to Their Success

“You can do anything, but you can’t do everything.”

Leading from the front. Leadership concept of blue origami ship leading in the front.
Leading from the front. Leadership concept of blue origami ship leading in the front.

Every year, the Social Capital Markets conference convenes the world’s leading investors and startups the want to build enterprises that contribute to the greater good. We asked 26 of the award-winning social enterprises what it takes to create a scaling startup that will actually change the world for the better. This is what they told us:

The most important skill any entrepreneur can develop is empathy  —  without empathy it’s difficult to understand a user problem well enough to design an effective solution for it. Coming from a refugee background has made it slightly easier for me to connect with the issues faced by displaced people today, but it has taken additional years of research and co-creation with the wider refugee community to make Chatterbox the platform that it is today.

The ability to sustain the shock of failure and to glean the lessons from its wreckage, over and over again. Building an organization is the act of constantly deforming and reforming.

You can do anything, but you can’t do everything. Let the main thing, be the main thing.

Execution is key in materializing your vision and KPIs.

Ivy Russell, CEO at Maya

Apart from being 100 percent passionate about the problem and the victims of the problem, the most critical skill that helped me grow Jamii is an innovative mindset.

Some of the elements that have been most helpful for me in building my social enterprise are grit, resiliency, determination, fearlessness, and a sense that anything is possible.

Insatiable curiosity has been my most important tool as an entrepreneur, which has enabled me to listen deeply, and to learn.

The growth of Luna Lights has been fueled by our persistence and ability to leverage our networks for the betterment of older adults.

Donovan Morrison, CEO at Luna Lights

In this business you have to be tireless, and decide to have fun, always, even against all odds. Your attitude is the only thing you can control, but you must in order to bring other people along.

Patience, persistence, finding good partners, self-care, and building a solid team have been critical to growing and sustaining Food Shift.

As the leader of a startup incubator in Iraq, one of the most important skills is flexibility and adaptability in the face of uncertainty. We’ve been able to expand our work because we can react quickly to changes in the environment and the diverse needs of our entrepreneurs.

The skills that have helped me grow my social enterprise most are creativity and perseverance. If we can continue to think outside of the box with a never give up attitude, then we can continue to solve the biggest challenges.

Empathy… to lead a team, to understand the pain points of the community you serve, and to ensure that the solution that you are providing is profitable to make you sustainable.

Showing empathy towards my teammates and being patient, and adapting based on the situation we are in.

A clear understanding of the driving force behind your actions. Knowing what creates your purpose and why your work is so important to achieve will make all obstacles worthwhile  —  and able  —  to overcome.

Self-reflection. You have to keep asking yourself the hard questions and take time to understand your answers.

Being resourceful, being open minded, and weighing the risk of decisions are key to success as a social entrepreneur.

Kristin Kagetsu, CEO at Saathi Eco Innovations

Being able to effectively AND concisely communicate our message has been key to growing our business.

Grit and resilience. It takes an incredible amount of grit to achieve something greater than yourself. Passions ebb and flow  —  they inspire and excite us, but they do not sustain us. For me, ending hunger is an obsession, and one that requires resilience  —  especially when people will tell you time and time again what you’re doing is “impossible.”

I’ve found that the most critical skill to build Burlap & Barrel has been an ability to build relationships with people from all different backgrounds. I work with spice farmers in rural Tanzania and Michelin-starred chefs in New York City, and an enthusiasm to learn from and connect with all of them has been they key to success.

Any problem is solvable with perseverance and dedication. Code Nation has grown because its leaders, staff, students, and community have an unwavering belief in its vision for the future  —  creating a generation of tech leaders with the power to reduce wealth disparity, increase diversity in the industry, and develop technology that better serves everyone.

Rebecca Novak, Executive Director, Bay Area, at Code Nation

Turning any vision into a reality requires tenacity, creativity, and humility. Working in social enterprise requires extra dedication to collaboration and making decisions that uphold the customer’s dignity. Social entrepreneurs must speak the many languages of their funders, partners, beneficiaries, and employees. Knowing how to transition between those worlds can make or break a founder’s success, especially in the early stages of a company.

Tori Samples, CEO at Leaf Global Fintech

Vision and Reality: thinking big, creative and bold while staying grounded and working with the realities we exist in… and then being courageous and resilient to ensure success.

Communication and language skills are critical towards helping organizations grow when working in an increasingly diverse world.

Saieshan Govinder, CEO at EduAfrika

Being able to clearly communicate the need we are addressing and sparking genuine interest in those around us has been critical as it impacts everything from recruiting to sales to fundraising.

The skill to imagine the world as it should be, and then to persevere towards that dream with empathy and collaboration.


I found the responses from this group of social enterprises to be incredibly uplifting. Not only did their guidance build on lessons learned from other entrepreneurs with statements like “grit” and “curiosity," but there was something more profound from this elite group of entrepreneurs that are doing more than just building successful startups. Multiple leaders shared that traits like empathy, communication, and team-building make it more likely that their innovations and business models will scale and leave a positive impact on the world.

Originally published on Medium.com.

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